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Portland could provide home for JFK aircraft carrier

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Portland could provide home for JFK aircraft carrier

PORTLAND — A decommissioned U.S. Navy aircraft carrier is being proposed as a permanent museum along the city's waterfront.

The City Council Monday night unanimously approved sending a letter of support to the Navy on behalf of a local group trying to bring the USS John F. Kennedy to Portland.

The group, campaigning as "JFK for ME," has pledged to raise all the funds necessary to run and maintain the 164 million-pound carrier as a museum. It needed a letter of support from the city in order to apply to the Navy.

"We need proof for the Navy that we will in fact be able to site it someplace," said Dana Slipp, representing the proposed USS John F. Kennedy Museum.

Slipp said the group does not need a specific berth in place for the first application round, which has a deadline of Jan. 22. The 40-year-old JFK is now berthed in Philadelphia. It was decommissioned in 2007.

Councilors made clear that although they support the JFK group's effort, they would not provide funding for the project and reserved the right to back out in the future.

"I'm in support of the concept in the broadest sense," Councilor John Anton said.

Councilor Jill Duson said bringing the aircraft carrier to Portland would provide a major attraction in the city. She said when she brought one of her children to see another aircraft carrier that had been turned into a museum it was a hit.

"Those kids were all over that boat," Duson said.

The application process is in three phases, according to JFK supporter Richard Fitzgerald, and will take no less than three years. If the Portland group survives the first phase it will begin raising money, he said. The group has started the process of applying for 501(c)3 nonprofit status.

A major hurdle could be finding a berth of suitable size for the JFK.

At 1,050 feet, the aircraft carrier is 50 feet longer than the Maine State Pier, and needs about 36 feet in depth. The beam (the widest width of its hull) is 128 feet and the flight deck width adds another 139 feet. The ship rises 192 feet from the water line to the top of its mast.

The Portland Observatory, in comparison, stands 222 feet above sea level.

Slipp said the group is not interested in putting the vessel at the state pier, although the Ocean Gateway cruise ship terminal area is appealing.

"We're open to options," he said.

'Places of assembly'

The council Monday also approved an ordinance allowing "places of assembly" to exist in residential zones where they were previously excluded.

The ordinance was drafted last fall, shortly after the city was sued by the Maine Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Sadri Shir. Shir owns a building at 978 Washington Ave. that the Portland Masjid and Islamic Center was using for prayer and gathering.

The city said that use was not allowed because the property didn't meet parking and lot size requirements and that places of worship needed conditional use approval in a mixed residential zone.

The MCLU said the city was violating the religious rights of the Afghani Muslim group.

The new ordinance reduces parking requirements for places of assembly and also lot size requirements. Zach Heiden, an attorney for the MCLU, said in an August interview that the changes would make the lawsuit moot.

Although the changes should allow the center to operate on Washington Avenue, Shir still needs to conform to site plan requirements allegedly violated when she had part of the property paved without city permission. The paving resulted in flooding of nearby properties.

The city in November filed a request with the courts to be allowed to enforce its code, saying the property owner was not following through on the agreement to file a site plan and correct the flooding issue. The two parties are still negotiating.

Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or kbucklin@theforecaster.net